Reeves gets teeth into remake for all the right reasons
Matt Reeves claims he directed Let Me In not as a cash-in but due to echoes of his childhood, discovers Evan Fanning
Matt Reeves breezes into the room with a smile on his face. He places his bottle of Coke on the table and gets on with the business at hand. In many ways, Reeves is in a no-win situation with his latest film. A US remake of a successful European film is always going to leave a bad taste with certain people, no matter how expertly executed the resulting film may be. If it is good, it is a reflection on the strength of the original. If it is bad, then it is the work of an insensitive hack butchering someone else's work for financial gain.
Let the Right One In featured prominently on most Best of 2008 lists. A coming-of-age vampire story focusing on the unlikely friendship between a troubled boy and girl, the Swedish film, directed by Tomas Alfredson, thrilled audiences and took the already flourishing vampire story into new areas.
That a US version would be made was probably inevitable. In the hands of Cloverfield director Reeves, it has been remade sensitively and with subtlety.
Reeves decided to change the name from Let the Right One In to Let Me In, which was the title of the original US print run of the John Ajvide Lindqvist novel (though it was later changed to match the film). "I had so much respect for the original film, I just felt if we differentiated in this little way it wasn't like we were saying this is Let the Right One In Again," he explains. "It was our attempt to do another telling of Lindqvist's story."
But it was the nuances of the plot, rather than its success as a film, which really attracted Reeves to the project. "What I liked about the story is that it didn't shy away from any particular aspect of the humanity," Reeves says.
"It allowed for light and dark, and perverse and innocence. That mix blew me away. That innocent child who is also having fantasies about serial killers and revenge, and then this tender love story juxtaposed with this really quite violent and disturbing vampire story. That was the power of the tale."
Rather than adopt wholesale changes, Reeves merely transported the movie from the bleak Swedish winter to the snow and ice of New Mexico. "I fell in love with that coming-of-age story and I wanted to remain faithful to that," he says.
Short, stocky and bespectacled, if it wasn't for Reeves' expensive-looking V-neck jumper and crisp jeans, you could mistake him for a film nerd at a comic book convention. At the same time, it is probably safe to assume he has attended his fair share of them. Cloverfield would have taken care of that.
The 2008 thriller, produced by Lost creator JJ Abrams, was made on a tight budget but became one of the big hits of the year. Reeves had been known primarily as a writer, having created the TV series Felicity, as well as scripted films such as The Yards and Under Siege 2.
Let Me In is a project that jumped out at the 44-year-old as soon as he read a manuscript of Lindqvist's not-yet-published novel. The sense of isolation and abandonment the lead character feels in his life rang true with Reeves and reminded him of his own childhood in California.
"I was bullied and I grew up at that time [the 1980s] and my parents went through a very painful divorce," he says. "I identified with that sense of being incredibly confused, the sense of humiliation and the sense of isolation. There is tremendous shame with being bullied. There is a level where you think there is a reason that you are being singled out.
"As a kid, I was always mistaken for a girl. Before you reach that age where your sexuality starts to display itself, kids can look very androgynous. I guess I leaned more towards the feminine, and all of those things were very, very hard growing up, because you're trying to create an identity and yet you're feeling shameful about the one that you're making."
In Let Me In, the central character Owen finds an escape from his often traumatic existence through his friendship with a peculiar girl, Abby, who has just moved to his apartment block. For the 14-year-old Reeves, salvation came in a different way. "For me, frankly, it was making 8mm movies," he says. "[They] became the tool with which I could make friends. Because I was too painfully shy under other circumstances, I would say, 'Hey do you want to make a movie?' And then we would make a movie and that's how I made friends. And it was also my escape. In the movies, I was James Bond."
Reeves blurts all this out at a frantic pace, barely pausing to take breath as he runs through the traumas of his childhood. Alongside him, his young leading man, 14-year-old Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee, seems a lot more laconic. The teenager is part of a select group of child stars who appear in heavyweight projects. It's basically made up of him and Kick-Ass star Chloe Moretz, who plays Abby in Let Me In.
Having previously played Viggo Mortensen's son in John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Smit-McPhee knows all about taking on traumatic and intense parts. When Reeves cast him, the director had yet to see The Road (or Kick-Ass, where Moretz famously used the c-word, sending the Daily Mail into a won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-children moral panic). "Kodi was in almost every scene and I know the shoot wore on him tremendously," Reeves says.
"I was really worried, because it's such an adult story and I thought, will we be able to find young actors who can handle this kind of emotional complexity? Adults have to relate to what's going on in the story, which means they have to express themselves in a way that is advanced for their age."
The excitement in advance of the release of Let Me In shows Reeves and his team's mastery of creating hype -- Cloverfield was one of the most highly anticipated movies of recent years thanks to viral marketing campaigns and online "leaks" of storylines and teaser trailers.
A deleted scene from Let Me In -- the so-called "rape scene" involving Moretz -- didn't make the final cut of the movie, but Reeves released it online last month, and, if it was an attempt to create advance anticipation for his movie, then it did the trick.
But Reeves denies that he took the harrowing segment out of the movie because he was concerned it would reflect badly on the film. "I cut that scene because it didn't work in the flow of the movie," Reeves explains. "One of the reasons I put it on the internet is that they were so great in the scene that I wanted people to see it. It was absolutely not because it wasn't palatable to the audience. It just didn't work in the flow. It was no attempt to soften the movie."
Having run the gauntlet by taking on a remake, Matt Reeves doesn't seem like the type of man to worry about placating an audience.
'Let Me In' is showing in cinemas now